Learning about other cultures makes no sense unless…

Far too early ” in the game”, myopic or poorly staffed/unprofessional  Training Departments prepare employees about the cultures and sensibilities of client locations.

Sometimes, this training focuses on a very superficial level, such as “when they say yes, they may mean no”, or, how to hold a business card. Other times the training may go into some depth.

However, it makes no sense at all to do any cultural training unless people understand their own  culture. This is the foundation upon which all learning about other cultures must take place. Without this understanding, the employee has no “learning platform” to make sense of what he learns.

Often, Training Departments view teaching people about their own culture as “a waste of time”, or worse, a waste of money, and very hard to “justify”. So they “jump” straight “to the point”.


  • If you are an American, do you understand how superficial you may be seen due to your expediency? Do you understand how superficiality may harm you in places where relationships are important?
  • If you are French, are you aware how your theoretical and critical approach may be seen as “irrelevant” to reality? Do you realize that in many countries, you may be “dead right”?
  • If you are a Thai, do you realize that smiling when you are angry may not be seen as effective? Are you aware that in many cultures, expressing anger with words is seen as managerial maturity?
  • If you are Israeli, do you realize that discussing things “openly” with a customer in initial meetings is rude? Do you realize that many clients put a negative value on openness in many situations?

Until people learn about their cultures’ limitations and biases, I suggest that learning about other cultures is useless.

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5 thoughts on “Learning about other cultures makes no sense unless…

  1. I am glad you know it all! You are putting all the americans and other nationalities in the same basket, it just shows you have a problem and your lack of understanding of OD. Wouldn’t it be better to start with a data collection as part of a system analysis of which culture is one variable, understanding that there are other steps before this one, but in terms of understanding the culture of the system in which you are intervening a critical one ?

  2. Alan –

    I have found these pieces of advice useful – I work with an Israeli who is also doing business with another company in the US. He has expressed discomfort with the expediency and process focus of the US company. And in fact this aspect of the negotiation made him suspicious that there they were not to be trusted.

  3. And all these years I thought that in learning other cultures, I was discovering my own culture … (from a third culture adult)

  4. Yes, I agree to this pertinent remark.
    What I have called the “Cultural Odyssey” ends (but does it ever?) when you come to “revisit” your own culture after you have discovered “the other’s culture” from within. This process normally comes naturally on its own (unless you are psycho-rigid!), and without this step, you may understand another culture but you will probably not be successful in dealing with it. I always remind my trainees that when we speak about others (even national fellows), we are actually speaking, unconsciously, about our own self. That is a permanent opportunity to discover our ego, who we really are, and to improve oneself.

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